“Blade Runner: 2049”

I’ve now seen Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated film, Blade Runner: 2049 twice. That alone should tell you how I feel about the film.

Thirty years after Deckard (Harrison Ford) fled with Rachael (Sean Young), we’re introduced to a new blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling). K’s tasked uncovers a certain secret that’s connected to him and Deckard, and threatens what remains of order. That’s all you need to know.

Blade Runner: 2049 was my most anticipated film of 2017 and it lives up to the hype. This is a mesmerizing film that maintains its predecessor’s tone and aesthetics while acting as a stand alone film. It’s currently my favorite film of 2017.

A lot has changed between 2019 and 2049 in the Blade Runner universe. Replicants have evolved, computers have evolved, and the world is now overpopulated and decayed. LA isn’t just rainy; it’s snowy, foggy, and smoggy. There isn’t a single shot of sunshine, yet the film is still stunning.

From start to finish, Blade Runner: 2049 is eye candy. I was mesmerized between the aerial shots of K driving through the neon skyscrapers and the shots of him walking through dark hallways and smoggy landscapes. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, Fargo) once again proves he’s the master of cinematography.

This isn’t a style over substance film by any means. Much like Ridley Scott’s masterful predecessor, Villeneuve’s sequel maintains the philosophical themes and ambiguous questions about life, death, and humanity. It also raises new ones about memory, miracles, evolution, and survival. 2049 isn’t at all a rehash of the first film.

2049 is 2 hours and 43 minutes long (roughly 44 minutes longer than the original) and is an epic in scale and tone. If you saw Villeneuve’s previous works Sicario and Prisoners, you know he has a knack for violent quick bursts of action. 2049 has enough to satisfy action lovers.

Everyone in the cast is perfect. Gosling delivers another cool, expressionistic performance as a troubled antihero. Ford portrays Deckard as a traumatized battle-torn veteran with grace. Robin Wright adds some humanity to her cold character Detective Joshi; she’s K’s superior and acts as a caring maternal figure. Even Jared Leto has a few golden moments as a god complex-ridden replicant manufacturer, Niander Wallace. Of all the performances, Sylvia Hoeks shines as Luv, Wallace’s replicant enforcer who wants to prove she’s the superior replicant.

Blade Runner was an acquired taste and 2049 isn’t any different. If you want an artistic epic that’s restrained in action but grandiose in themes, 2049 is for you. Villeneuve once again proves he’s one of the best working filmmakers to date.

Grade: A+

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Top 16 Films of 2016

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That’s right! I saw 16 movies that were great and worth mentioning. Before I count them down, I have a few things to mention:

  • Grades are arbitrary. So, just because a movie has an A+, that doesn’t mean I’m going to rank it above the A’s and A-‘s.
  • If there’s a movie missing, keep in mind I saw well over 70 movies throughout the year for review. So, if there’s one you liked that’s missing, I either didn’t see it or didn’t like it.
  • As much as I loved Hail, Caesar!, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Edge of Seventeen, and The Witch, these are honorable mentions, as I found the top 16 films superior.

And my top 16 films for 2016 are:

16) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This New Zealand gem is loaded with heart, humor, and a myriad of action movie references that left me entertained beginning-to-end. The underrated Sam Neill also gives an award-worthy performance that’ll sadly be looked over.

15) Manchester by the Sea – The most recent film I reviewed, Manchester by the Sea is a funny, heartbreaking, and sincere depiction of grief. Casey Affleck once again delivers a powerful performance as Lee Chandler, this year’s most haunting on-screen protagonist.

14) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I know a lot of fans are mad this isn’t higher on my list, but hey, I still loved Rogue One! This is a refreshingly dark and political installment in the Star Wars franchise, featuring one of the year’s best final acts.

13) 10 Cloverfield Lane – Semi-sequel to the decent monster film Cloverfield10 Cloverfield Lane is an old-fashioned thriller reminiscent of 80’s sci-fi and horror films. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance as survivalist, Howard. His relationship with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is also an in-depth commentary on abuse that left me floored.

12) Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch steals every seen as our charismatic and arrogant titular character. Between his performance and Scott Derrickson’s bizzare and innovative visuals, Doctor Strange is a must-see for Marvel fans.

11) Deadpool – Speaking of Marvel, Ryan Reynolds gave me what I wanted: a damn fine Deadpool movie. Reynolds brings his A-game in a movie packed with meta jabs at himself and the superhero genre, frenetic action, and quotable dialogue. Deadpool has set the new bar for R-rated superhero movies.

10) Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson makes a directorial comeback with this harrowing and spiritual war film. Hacksaw Ridge has some pretentious moments, but they’re redeemable thanks to Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance as conscientious objector, Desmond Doss. Between his performance and Gibson’s visceral direction, it’s now a top contender for best WWII movie.

9) Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins directs this year’s most ambitious and unique film. It’s a tough film to watch, focusing on three periods in one man’s life. The journey pays off as we’re treated to some innovative cinematography, a kinetic score, and beautiful storytelling.

8) Zootopia – One of the most important films of the year, Zootopia is an insightful and funny animated film with a lot on its mind. Did anyone expect a cartoon to have thought-provoking commentary on race, discrimination, xenophobia, and gender roles? We’ll need more films like Zootopia over the next four years.

7) Kubo and the Two Strings – Kubo and the Two Strings is a magical animated film with heart and superb animation. Dario Marianelli’s brilliant score and the ensemble voice performances make Kubo an unforgettable experience.

6) Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier’s third film Green Room is sick, twisted fun. Combining arthouse elements of Gus Van Sant with grindhouse elements of John Carpenter and Sam Peckinpah, Green Room is an explosive tribute to siege movies and punk music. It also features an against-type performance from Patrick Stewart and one of the late Anton Yelchin’s final performances.

5) Captain America: Civil War – As a Marvel fan, I was satisfied with the morally ambiguous turn in Captain America: Civil War. The second and third acts contain the year’s best action sequences and one twist that made the movie into a dark dysfunctional family tale.

4) The Nice Guys – Shane Black takes his buddy cop formula and mashes it into the Film Noir genre (my favorite genre); the result is a smart, hilarious, and stylish throwback on 70’s New Hollywood. Russell Crowe returns to form in his most badass role since 3:10 to Yuma, while Ryan Gosling shows off his hidden comedic talent. The duo’s chemistry is brilliant!

3) Hell or High Water – A modern Western reminiscent of the Coen Brothers, Hell or High Water is a cynical and poetic tale of brotherhood. Ben Foster and Chris Pine shine as a pair of troubled brothers while Jeff Bridges steals every scene as the persistent lawman. The final scene alone makes Hell or High Water a haunting, but rewarding experience.

2) Arrival – Arrival is the year’s most challenging film. It’s slowly paced with minimum dialogue, but expressive. Director Denis Villeneuve makes an uncommonly optimistic and beautiful hard sci-fi film, featuring the best twist ending I’ve seen in years. It’s an emotional journey, and it shows Blade Runner 2049 is in the right hands.

1) La La Land – I’ve been singing “City of Stars” nonstop since I saw La La Land, this year’s best film. Director and writer Damien Chazelle follows Whiplash with another love letter to jazz. La La Land is a more hopeful commentary about passion and dreams, and it’s packed with masterfully directed musical numbers and more winning performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This will be the Best Picture winner!

Those were my favorite movies of 2016! What was yours?

“La La Land”

Director Damien Chazelle demonstrated his passion for jazz music in “Whiplash” two years ago, which was one of 2014’s best films. He further expresses his passion for both jazz and film in “La La Land,” which is the most passionate and energetic film of the year.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a self-righteous jazz musician. He wants to open his own club, but he doesn’t know where to begin. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She wants to make it big, but doesn’t have faith in herself. Of course they meet and a romance blossoms, but we’re also treated to rich dialogue and lively musical numbers.

There isn’t a single dull moment in “La La Land.” From the retro opening credits to the end montage, Chazelle is on fire with the musical numbers and emotional moments. The opening scene is a masterful tracking shot, choreographing dozens of extras on a freeway who perform “Another Day of Sun.”

Every shot in this film is perfect and shows off the glamorous side of Los Angeles (a city I find dirty). Chazelle cuts the film brilliantly to highlight Sebastian and Mia’s emotions. They’re an adorable pair with great chemistry, but their mutual insecurities are overbearing.

As the film goes on, the drama progresses and we see that there are consequences to the couple following their dreams. Chazelle is less cynical about passion in “La La Land” than he was in “Whiplash,” but he remains realistic. He’s stating that you should follow your dreams, but there will be challenges along the way.

His intimacy with “La La Land” never comes off pretentious, but rather an introduction. Sebastian introduces a jazz-hating Mia to the genre, turning her into a fan. I don’t like musicals and have little jazz knowledge, but I know after watching “La La Land,” I want to watch more musicals and listen to more jazz.

“La La Land” is magical, but I wouldn’t call it a feel-good movie. It’s bittersweet, but more on the sweet side.

Grade: A+

“The Nice Guys”

Shane Black, please write and direct more often. Russell Crowe, please do more action movies. Ryan Gosling, please, please, PLEASE do more comedies!

“The Nice Guys” is a buddy comedy (it is from the guy behind “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang”), and takes place in the 1970’s. Crowe plays a wannabe-cop named Jackson Healy; Healy’s trying to find purpose in life and settles for being muscle-for-hire. Gosling is a bumbling private detective named Holland March. March is so burned out on life, that he’s fine drinking rather than working.

Healy and March collide after Healy orders March to drop his case in searching for a missing girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley), but quickly partners with March when he’s violently confronted about Amelia’s whereabouts. This leads to both bloody and funny encounters with porn stars, hired guns, politicians, and auto dealers.

“The Nice Guys” is one of the best and funniest movies so far of this year. Like Black’s other movies, it’s filled with highly quotable dialogue (I’m going to be saying, “I’m invincible,” for a while), great physical humor (Gosling willingly throws himself off ledges), and an intriguingly cynical plot.

The movie isn’t just set in the 70’s, it looks and feels like a New-Hollywood film. The score is disco-heavy, the cinematography looks like grainy film stock, and the set pieces and characters are all sleazy. Healy and March are both anti-heroes, but their backstory and dynamic personalities keep “The Nice Guys” going.

Healy knows he’s a bad person and wants to find redemption. March denies being a terrible person while continuing to do terrible things. There is heart in this movie! Like all of Shane Black’s movies, there’s a kid who acts as the adults’ good conscience. That’s Hollie (Angourie Rice), March’s daughter, who bonds with Healy.

I’m not going into further detail about the plot or the humor, but I’ll say that if you’re going to see a movie that’s out right now, see “The Nice Guys!” They don’t make them like this anymore.

Grade: A

“The Big Short”

Did you know that a small group of bankers predicted the economy crashing before 2008? Did you know it started with these bankers predicting the housing market crash? Well, I didn’t know until I saw “The Big Short”, which is an insightful  look at the events leading to the recession.

“The Big Short” is director Adam McKay’s (“Anchorman”) introduction to dramatic filmmaking and stars Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as the  bankers who saw the financial disaster coming. Bale plays the eccentric Michael Burry, who first predicted the recession and bet the housing market would crash while everyone laughed at him. Gosling and Carell play bankers Jared Vinnett and Mark Baum, who learned of Burry’s deal and invested in it. Brad Pitt is a retired banker named Ben Rickert, who mentors two greedy young kids that want in on the short.

“The Big Short” is part docudrama and part satirical comedy, occasionally scoring some laughs (this is the guy who directed “Anchorman” afterall). It doesn’t always hit its mark due to dizzying camerawork and a lack of focus.

Bale delivers a brilliant performance as Burry. He’s a one-eyed man with a lack of social skills who’s focused entirely on numbers and metal music. He’s by far the most interesting character in this movie, but here’s the problem – he’s hardly in it! Carell gives one of his angriest and most human performances as Baum, a man overwhelmed by the flaws in the system and survivor’s guilt.

Pitt and Gosling are both the cool guys as usual, with Pitt portraying Rickert as a health-conscious retired banker, and Gosling acting as the film’s narrator. Vinnett’s narration scenes are funny in a dark and condescending way as he turns the scene over to several celebrities as guest narrators.

McKay’s strong point in “The Big Short” is showing us the horrors of the impending recession, but then finding a funny and cartoonish way to explain it to us. One scene involving Carell’s horrific realization with “Sweet Child O’Mine” as background music, followed by an explanation comparing a black jack game to the recession crumbling is the highlight of the film.

Sadly, there’s just not enough humor or balance between McKay’s cinema verite approach and his dark comedy angle. Not saying McKay should go back to what he knows because he made a good movie, but he does have some room to grow.

Grade: B+